From 2015 to 2018 finstas ruled the teenage digital landscape. Slang for fake Instagram accounts, finstas were the first place teens would post photos they didn’t want to share on main. Creating a finsta was a rite of passage, and following someone’s shadow feed felt like you were really part of their close inner circle.
Finstas recently became newsworthy again in September following a Senate hearing to address the mental health effects of Instagram on teens. That’s when Sen. Richard Blumenthal asked Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, a pointed, if not slightly misguided, question: “Will you commit to ending finsta?”
But if you ask any teen, they’ll probably tell you that finsta is already a dated concept.
In a 2021 survey from financial services firm Piper Sandler, only 22 percent of teenagers said Instagram was their favorite social media platform, coming in third after Snapchat and TikTok, respectively. Compare that with the results of Piper Sandler’s 2015 data that show Instagram at the top of the list among teenagers, with 33 percent of participants claiming the photo-sharing app as their favorite.
Finstas were popular at my high school and owning one felt like you were part of an elite inner circle. Having a finsta was a status symbol.
I created my finsta in 2014 at the beginning of my sophomore year of high school. I wanted a place to share silly photos with my friends — and to follow other people’s accounts. Finstas were popular at my school and owning one felt like you were part of an exclusive club. Having a finsta was a status symbol. I still have the account today, but I barely use it and most of the cohort of finstas that follow me are inactive. I would argue Instagram and its new norms ended finsta culture, or at least significantly decreased the necessity of a burner account.
To test this theory, I posted a poll on my main Instagram to my followers, mostly between the ages of 19 and 26, asking if they ever had a finsta and if they still use it. A total of 118 people responded that at some point they had finstas, and only 35 of those people still use their accounts, or roughly 29 percent.
Why did they stop using their finsta accounts? For starters, the app evolved. Instagram introduced Close Friends Stories in 2018, making it easier to post a story to your chosen Close Friends list than manage an entire second account. Snapchat also added the ability to share private stories in 2017.
Additionally, rallying cries of “make Insta casual” on TikTok in 2020 and the popularity of photo dumps on Instagram further made the finsta obsolete. Not to mention, Instagram as a platform has become less about sharing photos and more about shopping.
To me, finstas are a distinctly high school phenomenon, a relic of the teenage experience. So I wondered if high school students today still had a use for finstas — and if they still play a crucial role in high school dynamics.
I don’t think I have much to say on my finsta, and anything I want to post I can post anywhere else.
Among Gen Z cuspers like myself, a couple of years makes all the difference in your social media habits. In August, amid the rush of college freshmen moving into their dorms, I saw so many TikToks on my FYP of teens complaining about their roommates. My initial reaction was that this type of thing should be posted on finsta, not TikTok — where your roommate could easily see it — but younger Gen Z doesn’t seem to fear their digital footprint the way I did. Instead of posting an embarrassing anecdote to their 30 closest friends, teens today share it on TikTok with the hopes of going viral or on Snapchat where images are deleted after viewing them and you’re incentivized to keep streaks with your contacts.
Emma Condit, a 19-year-old student at UC Davis, stopped using her finsta in May 2021. “I don’t think I have much to say on my finsta, and anything I want to post I can post anywhere else,” Condit told Mashable. “Instead of posting on my finsta now I post on my Close Friends story or on Twitter.”
It’s not only college students who are abandoning their finstas. Lilabel Kierstead, a 14-year-old high school student in Western Massachusetts, told Mashable, “There was a point where finstas were at their peak, which was probably between 2016 and 2018. People definitely still use finstas, but only once every couple of months. There’s just not as much appeal to it as there used to be.” Now, Kierstead uses her private Snapchat story.
Finstas may have fallen out of favor among Gen Z, but their impact can still be felt. They created a culture of cultivating secondary online accounts, private spaces where you could express yourself away from the prying eyes of adults.
Rachel Barton, a 17-year-old high school senior in the San Francisco Bay Area, agrees. “I remember finstas being more popular when I was a freshman or sophomore in high school,” she told Mashable. “My friends and I use [our] close friends stories now, and they are definitely used more than finstas.”
Finstas may have fallen out of favor among Gen Z, but their impact can still be felt. They created a culture of cultivating secondary online accounts, private spaces where you could express yourself away from the prying eyes of adults. They were also a double-edged sword: On the one hand, a finsta allows you to be a more authentic version of yourself; but there’s also pressure to use your finsta to brag about the unsavory behavior you couldn’t post on main.
“I had a finsta and every guy at my high school did, too, at least all the guys that would party. They’d post party pics and about drugs [on their accounts],” said Dan Willet, a 22-year-old who went to high school in Santa Barbara, California.
To understand the finsta phenomenon, I dusted off my own account and scrolled all the way back to 2014. I couldn’t help but cringe.
Credit: Instagram / Elena Cavender
In high school, I primarily complained about student government and posted the occasional odd party picture on my finsta. I was most active on the account during my first semester of college. On my main feed, it seemed like all of my former classmates from high school were thriving in college, and I felt isolated in my struggle to adjust. My finsta was a safe haven where everyone I followed was being honest about how awkward those first few months of university were. Once I acclimated, I mainly used my finsta to stay in touch with my friends from home and post inside jokes with my new college friends.
Now, most of the accounts that follow my finsta are inactive, so if I were to post on that account no one would see it. If I want to share a random thought, I just tweet it. Or I post it on my main account, where sharing hot takes and memes has become the new norm.
Lexi Shannon created her finsta in 2016 right before her high school graduation. “I mostly used it to post memes and shitpost about high school,” she told Mashable over Twitter DM. “Once I got into college that fall it transitioned into a place to mass update all my high school friends at once on the shit I was doing.”
Shannon has since retired her finsta. “It just got tiring,” she explained. “I’m 23 now, so it had been about 5 years of [using my] finsta. It was always nice to go back and look at the memories I made and only talked about there, but I really just wanted to leave that chapter locked inside the memory of that account.”
Shannon makes a great point: Finstas documented my microgeneration’s adolescence. They are a photo diary full of forgotten memories, past obsessions, and friends you’ve fallen out of touch with — not necessarily the people and behavior you want to be reminded of into adulthood.
I really just wanted to leave that chapter locked inside the memory of that account.
For 22-year-old Flora Elmcolone, finsta culture led to an immense amount of social pressure, especially for young women. “There was something distinctly sexualizing about finstas in high school—in my experience there was pressure to choose some kind of sexual pun for your name which meant I was always brainstorming clever ways to literally degrade myself, so that my finsta would be seen as cool/fun,” wrote Elmcolone over DM.
Elmcolone still uses her finsta as a place to post random photo dumps. Victoria Gusciora, a 23-year-old support worker in the San Francisco Bay Area, also keeps her finsta active. Why? Because the emotional and mental stakes are lower when she logs into that account. Now that they past their prime, the only people who post to their finsta are the ones who actually care about the community, and freedom, they found through it.
“I don’t know if I will ever be able to post something to 900 people without being anxious about it,” explained Gusciora. “But I can post something to 25 people and feel really good about it on my private Instagram.”